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Richmond, Va., March 28, 1862


General Joseph E. Johnston,

Commanding Army of Northern Virginia:

General: Your letter of the 27th, by Lieutenant Washington, your aide-de-camp, has been received. The reports of Generals Jackson and Stuart indicate a large force in your front. Should the enemy seize Gordonsville and Charlottesville and advance his right wing to Staunton the whole of Western Virginia, our lines of communication through Tennessee, and the armies of Generals Edward Johnson, Heth, and Marshall will be cut off. The enemy is apparently advancing to your present position, and if your force is weakened so as to entail the loss of the line of the Rapidan it will carry with it the consequences above stated.

When the proposition was made to you to co-operate with a large part of your forces in the defense of the Peninsula or Norfolk, as the case might be, it was under the supposition that the enemy could not advance, which would therefore require in your present line, for the period during which you were expected to be absent, but little more than an army of observation. If such be the fact, then you will move with all the force you think it safe to withdraw. But as a mode of expressing to you the limit which it is intended to affix I will cite the remark of the President, that the loss of the Central road and communication with the valley at Staunton would be more injurious than the withdrawal from the Peninsula and the evacuation of Norfolk. You are aware that between your present position and Richmond there is no defensive line so strong as that you now hold, and this consideration gives to that line an additional value.

The President is not at all reluctant to take the responsibility of any movement of the propriety of which he is confident, and it is only designed to ask of you that judgment which your better information enables you more safely to render. He desires you to exercise that judgment and give him the benefit of your views. In the mean time, if doubtful of the course to be pursued, he invites you to a full conference at this place, where the latest intelligence is collected.

I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,

R E Lee,

General, Commanding  




Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 11, Part 3, pp. 408-409

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2018 March 29